March 24, 2011

“So that’s Underarm and Hollywood at 2 o’clock on Thursday,” a matronly fellow bus passenger bellowed into her mobile phone just a seat or two ahead of Bankstone News this week.

And whilst on the subject of geographical designations with tonsorial connotations, it is Bankstone News’ solemn duty to relate the sad tale of Axa claims employee Licia Faithful and how she was mocked out of a job over her supposed vocal resemblance to well-known Brazilian sub-aquatic cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, or RobertiñoEsponja CalçaQuadrada as he is of course known in his native land.

The unfortunate Mrs Faithful, also a native of Brazil, was forced to accept a £140,000 settlement after fellow Axa employees allegedly put her through 18 months of hell in what employment tribunal Judge Gill Sage characterised as a “hostile and degrading” environment (Tunbridge Wells).

Co-workers supposedly ridiculed and mimicked her ‘squeaky’ and ‘annoying’ voice and played it back to her to demonstrate exactly how annoying it was. So that’s what that line about call centre calls being recorded and used for training purposes means.

Faithful was also forced to look on as colleagues were showered with cash and vouchers and other rewards whilst she was branded ‘cranky,’ ‘lazy,’ and ‘Brazilian.’ The alleged abuse apparently left Mrs Faithful depressed, agoraphobic and unable to carry out even the most menial household tasks.

Judge Sage had no difficulty deciding that Faithful had been bullied (or “buillied” according to Insurance Times’ mildly idiosyncratic version of the story), awarding her £81,740 for racial and other discrimination, £10,012 damages, £24,765 for hurt feelings and £25,473 for personal injury.

An Axa spokesperson professed disappointment at the judgement: “Treating our employees fairly is very important to us and we work hard to create a positive, supportive workplace culture where employees enjoy their working environment and feel that they can give their best in serving our customers.” What, even annoying, squeaky-voiced ones who are from South America and therefore probably on drugs?

All together now: Quem vive em um abacaxi sob o mar? (Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?)


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